The first homecoming flight to Iraq returned hundreds of migrants who had been detained in escalating suffering in Belarus, caught in an international impasse and unable to reach their ultimate destination, the European Union.
The flight, organized by the Iraqi government, was part of attempts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis that has erupted as refugees, many of them from the Middle East, attempted and failed to reach Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, all of which are European Union nations bordering Belarus.
Thousands of migrants remain in Belarus, and many of those who have returned have stated that they will attempt again to reach the European Union, despite the futility and brutality they have experienced.
According to Iraqi officials, 430 individuals boarded an Iraqi Airways Boeing 747 at Minsk, Belarus’s capital. 390 of them disembarked at Erbil, with the remainder arriving at the next stop, Baghdad.
In recent months, Belarus’s President Aleskandr G. Lukashenko has made it easier for migrants to enter the nation and urged them to pass unauthorized into the European Union — in retribution, European leaders say, for sanctions imposed by the bloc following a disputed 2020 election.
However, the migrants found themselves in terrible conditions, being abused on both sides of the divide and becoming increasingly destitute, camped in freezing woodlands along the borders with no food, shelter, or medical care.
Iraq had stated that it would only repatriate those who returned freely, but Ashti Younis, 29, who also travelled to Erbil, claimed that Belarusian officials duped him and forced him to return. He said that on Thursday morning, police arrived at his hotel and claimed to be bringing him to renew his visa, but actually escorted him to the airport.
Arshad Hassan, 32, who travelled to Baghdad, said he and a group of friends flew to Belarus on Nov. 8 and, when they arrived at the Polish border, Belarusian soldiers promised to assist them in crossing. Instead, the troops grabbed their passports, phones, and smokes, imprisoned them for four days, and then transported them to the Lithuanian border, he claimed.
Mr. Hassan, who has stated that “Iraq has no future,” has stated that he will not give up his attempt to reach Europe.
Some Iraqi refugees have expressed a desire to seek asylum in Belarus, potentially putting Mr. Lukashenko in a difficult position.
The great majority of visitors came in Belarus by plane, but airlines have reduced flights from the Middle East to Minsk, and people from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have been barred.
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